Rebuking Destructive Behavior

I.  Verses 4:1-3:  God brings charges against Israel as if he were a prosecuting attorney in a courtroom. He gives a catalogue of charges the gravamen of which is “no knowledge of God in the land.” We hear no more of Gomer in this prophecy, but the image has been set, and the grotesque unfaithfulness of Israel now takes precedence. Hosea points to the consistency of idolatry throughout Israel’s history, no matter the greatness and the obvious nature of God’s mercies, as well as the offense of the people, priests and prophets, and every level of society.

A. In 4:1, the Lord announces that he has a controversy [a “Charge” or a “Case”] against the children of Israel. Those being accused are no specific sub-group. But the “inhabitants of the land.” Though some specific sins are more prominent among particular groups because of the responsibilities they have, none are left out of this accusation. The first list of charges concerns the first table of the Law. Each of these charges concerns their failure properly to regard the revelation of God to them, neither in word, in deed, or covenantal arrangement.

No faithfulness – Though God redeemed them from Egypt, showed himself in mighty wonders, provided for them through the wilderness in spite of their various rebellions and complaining, and gave them a law stipulating that blessing would come to them by their faithfulness to worship him alone and put no rival in his place, nor seek to replicate him in an image, they have consistently refused to do this. They are unfaithful.

No steadfast love – Though Yahweh is worthy of all their devotion and should be the sole object of their love, they have loved other things first, all focusing on their quest for personal pleasure.

No knowledge of God – Though God has given his revelation in an abiding word, and his designated that priests should teach it, and though he gives continuing revelation through prophets, the people have no knowledge. Not only do they have no cognitive understanding of the character of God and the nature of his aggressive mercies toward them, they have no personal experiential knowledge; they have not sought to love him and meditate with devotion on the mercies that formed them into a people. In spite of the fact that of all the peoples on earth none received the advantage of special knowledge of God except this people, they do not know him. If there were knowledge of God in the land, then there would be less godlessness in the land, But what is the case? The lack of God-centeredness breeds perversity of life.

B.  In 4:2 the Lord continues with the charges. The only manifestation of recognition of God comes in the breaking of the commandment not to take his name in vain. There is

Swearing – Jesus looked upon the common practice of swearing as a form of taking God’s name in vain [Matthew 5:33-37]. James told his hearers not to swear [James 5:12] so that they would not fall under condemnation. Swearing occurs when one invokes the integrity of God as a fail-safe for one’s own lack of character and resolute honesty. It shows that there is no trust, no personal and internal awareness of the holy presence of God, no concern that all of our words are heard and known by him, that they arise from the heart and reflect our spiritual state. Swearing is a form of moral deism, a lack of sense that God is always present and that all our words and actions are under the scrutiny of his holy omniscience.

Lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery – The lack of knowledge of God, the callousness to his holy presence leads to rampant disregard of the commands of the second table. It is no mere accidental arrangement of words that lying immediately follows swearing. They swear by God on some occasions, but in their normal daily intercourse they lie and bear false witness.

Having given themselves over to Baal and Asherah, under conditions of drought or other natural calamity, human sacrifice was made to Baal of the first-born by burning. This devaluing of human life gives rise to a murderous society in which “bloodshed follows bloodshed.”

Temple prostitution also flowed over into family and social life and made an adulterous society. See verses 12 and 13; This is referring to spiritual whoredom which encourages literal whoredom, 12 b; This whoredom practiced in religion has destroyed the divine intention of the family. “Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery.” [13b]

God has no need to bring specific judgment for the harlotry of the daughters and brides [4:14] for the conduct is inherently self-destructive. These women will not find faithful men anywhere, for it is a faithless nation, and the men consort with prostitutes and temple prostitutes. Such supposed enlightened conduct, given over to Lord Baal, carries the seeds of a self-inflicted horror. “A people without understanding shall come to ruin” [14c].

C.  In 4:3 Hosea shows that nature itself is under repression [“the land mourns”] because of the sin of Israel. The cycle is distressing. Because Baal was the supposed controller of the sun, drought brought attempts to pacify Baal, which led to greater idolatry which led to greater judgment from Yahweh, the maker of heaven and earth. His law was revealed but was ignored. Thus the “creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but by reason of who subjected it.” [Romans 8:20].  The land, the beasts, the birds, and even the fish experienced the results of God’s displeasure with Israel.

II. Now the charge [4:4-9] becomes more isolated to a specific group.  Prophets and priest encourage the downward spiral.

A.  verse 4 – God prohibits any of those against whom he is bringing his charge from accusing another: “Let no one contend, and let none accuse.” God Himself will point out the most guilty perpetrators.

B.  God points to the priests and prophets. During the time of Ahab and Jezebel, there were prophets and priests of Baal. Elijah had many of them destroyed and Jehu had followed suit and managed to rid the land of Baal during his time as king; but the tenacious idolatry of the people and subsequent kings, as well as the failure of Jehu to restore pure worship, had brought them back so that 2 Kings 17 noted, “And they abandoned all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made for themselves metal images of two calves; and they made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal. And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings and used divination and omens and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord.” [2 Kings 17:16, 17] The priests mentioned here in Hosea 4 seem to be those that are supposed to minister according to the requirements of Yahweh.

C.  4:5, 6 – Though they were supposed to teach the written word and prophesy truly, both priest and prophet had “rejected knowledge” and thus the people were “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” The priests had “forgotten the law of your God” leading to God’s casting off the nation of Israel [“I will destroy your mother . . . I will forget your children.”]

D. 4:7-9 – Instead of giving knowledge of the Law, the priests benefit from the increasing sin of the people, and they therefore encourage iniquity that they may benefit from the sacrifices.  The reciprocal effect of the sins of the people and the priests create a descending spiral into perversity and increasing culpability. The more they worship, the greater the sin, and the more intense and devastating the judgment.

III. The cumulative effect of sin, unrepented of, is the destruction of legitimate human pleasure and joyful human relations. They are finally cut off from the blessings that God reserved for his peculiar people. 4:10-19

A. The perversion of legitimate human activity, instead of growth and joy, brings emptiness and carries with it its own judgment. When the gifts of God are raised to the level of idols, their legitimate function in the human soul and body is corrupted, and the gift does not bless, but curses. Verses 10, 11

Food no longer gives satisfaction for the expectations that accompany eating are too high. In the pagan Roman empire, at banquets gluttony was seen as the goal of eating by many and purging periodically so that one might gorge even more was the custom. When the pleasure of taste becomes the highest expectation that one has in life, even good food does not satisfy.

Sex as a god, fails to give legitimate increase of population for God makes that blessing a curse. Note 7 b, “I will change their glory into shame.” This has happened in many cultures where the pursuit of the pleasure of sex as an end in itself has led to the corruption of marriage, the increase of abortion, the resistance to family commitments, and resentment toward children. Decisions for childlessness for the sake of an uncluttered life is tantamount to disobedience to be “fruitful and multiply” and a denial that children are a heritage from the Lord.

Wine also is abused, and instead of making glad the heart, it takes away the heart, that is, the understanding.

B. They become utterly stupid in their approach to the knowledge of God and spiritual truth. Idolatry has sapped from them genuine rationality and led to the substitution of immediate pleasure as the greatest purpose of religion. Verses 12, 13

Verse 12 – Instead of looking to the revelation that God has given in the Law and in the Scripture, they inquire of pieces of wood, such as their walking staff. Idolatry has made them superstitiously irrational in their quest for guidance. Note how a permissive culture that gives no credence to the fact that God has spoken breeds superstition.

Verse 13 – [See 1 Kings 12:25-31; 13:33f for the background of Jeroboam’s creation of a new religion for the North] They offer sacrifices in the places that are most comfortable. For generations they have lived in disobedience to the Law of God concerning the place of sacrifice in Jerusalem. That was the sin of Jeroboam at the time of the division of the kingdom. He established his own priesthood and his own places of religious ritual. That practice led to the importation of priests of Baal by Jezebel and the perverse religion of Baal. It has clung to the people and has destroyed them. Their preference for convenience in religious practice has brought destruction of soul. They substituted their desire for the word of God; idolatry, unremitted through all the history of the Northern kingdom, led to a complete perversion of the way of God particularly poignant in the matter of sexual ethics and the violation of marriage. Spiritual whoredom produced a society that is swamped by sexual infidelity. [See above under I. B]

C.  Verse 15 indicates that the Southern Kingdom, though evil in many ways (Beth-Aven “means house of evil”) is not to be compromised with the same judgment that is to come on the nation established by Jeroboam (“Let not Judah become guilty). Though the Southern Kingdom had its own problems and its seasons of infidelity, it also had times of spiritual prosperity.  Now the prophet shows that Israel’s sin has finally separated it from any future relations with  the house of David, that is until Messiah comes [See John 4:7-10]

D. Their persistent sinfulness has finally settled them in a state from which God will not bring about recovery. From this we must learn that God is perfectly just in leaving us to our sin [note 1 Kings 12:24, “This thing is from me.”]; he owes no grace to anyone and can pronounce judgment at any point in our pilgrimage of sin. He can sustain us in our course of rebellion and infidelity and still justly remove any avenue to grace and forgiveness.

Verse 16 – Israel has removed herself from the nurture that God would provide through his word. Israel, not like a lamb dependent on its shepherd, is like a stubborn heifer, refusing to be led to sustaining food.

Verse 17 – Ephraim, a personification of the northern Kingdom, is joined, that is, irretrievably, to idols.

Verse 18 – In a fruitless and feverish quest for religious fulfillment they move from wine to sex with the participation and approval of those that should protect them from this kind of self-destructive behavior (“Their rulers [shields] dearly love shame.”)

Verse 19 – They are overcome by the force of such cumulative, incessant, unremitting disobedience to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the house of David. They cannot escape for “A wind has wrapped them in its wings.” Even their practice of their so-called religion (“their sacrifices”) brings shame to them. Look at chapter 5, verse 4, “Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord.”

IV.  Some concluding ideas

A.  The revelation of God in his Law gives the foundation of truth for personal purity and joyful employment of the multiplicity of blessings with which God has flooded the world: food, sexual pleasure in marriage, children, friends, stability of society through just government.

B.  When there is “no knowledge of God in the land,” none of these blessings give joy, but they are turned into curses and bypaths to misery.

C.  God has given both his word and those that are commissioned to teach it; the unfaithfulness of those that have received this commission brings sorrow, sin, and corruption of heart and life to the people.

D. Consider how great is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that its power can transform both persons and cultures that formerly were given up to this self-destruction and were susceptible to the infinite wrath of God.[See Titus 3:1-7]

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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